Government formation post-election - Political and Constitutional Reform Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

Changes from the 2010 election

1.  The public should expect that the negotiation period for the formation of a potential coalition Government or confidence and supply arrangement will be longer in 2015 than in 2010. (Paragraph 9)

2.  While we recognise that, in a number of scenarios, after a general election there may not be uncertainty over the nature of the continuing or incoming administration, opinion polling in the last months of this Parliament has consistently indicated the likelihood of an election result with no overall majority. We are therefore disappointed that the opportunity provided by the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 has not been used by the Government and the Civil Service to plan better for the potential of a period of negotiations immediately following the General Election. An opportunity to ensure that as far as possible key decisions do not have to be taken by a caretaker administration during a period of government formation appears to have been missed. We recommend that in future the Civil Service seeks as far as possible to schedule key decisions for Ministers until after the end of any likely period of Government formation after an election. (Paragraph 13)

3.  We welcome the fact that parties involved in negotiations in 2010 have made formal changes to their internal processes so that there can be greater consultation with Members of Parliament and, perhaps equally importantly, all three parties seem to acknowledge the need for consultation on any agreement to which their party wishes to commit them. (Paragraph 19)

Operation of the 'caretaker convention'

4.  It is clear to us that there are significantly different rationales for restrictions on the normal government activity during a 'purdah' period before an election and a 'caretaker' period afterwards. This is not made clear in the Cabinet Manual. During the former, which is in place for any election, the Government may still command a majority in the outgoing House of Commons but is expected to observe discretion in initiating any new action of a continuing or long-term character which might aid an election campaign. (Paragraph 26)

5.  During a caretaker period, the incumbent government can no longer command the confidence of Parliament and a new administration will eventually be formed. The rationale for the incumbent Government remaining in place during the caretaker period is that it can continue with the management of the country, carrying out administrative tasks and dealing with any urgent matters which arise, and ensuring that there is a continuous source of constitutional advice to the Queen. (Paragraph 27)

6.  We recommend that in the next Parliament the Cabinet Manual should be updated to differentiate more clearly the reasons behind the periods of restriction. This will give greater clarity to Ministers, Members of Parliaments, civil servants and the public about what should and what should not happen during these periods. (Paragraph 28)

7.  Should the outcome of the 2015 election result in a House of Commons with no overall majority, the public and media should expect to see the incumbent Prime Minister remain as Prime Minister, in 10 Downing Street, even if there is little prospect that he will be able to form an administration. The incumbent Prime Minister should remain in office until it is clear that a new administration is in a position to form a Government which will command the confidence of the House of Commons. Indeed we consider that there is a duty on him to stay in place until such a time. (Paragraph 33)

8.  Following the 2015 election, in the event of a House of Commons with no overall majority and an extended negotiating period, the public should expect to see Ministers who have lost their seats in the House continuing in their ministerial roles until a new government has been formed. (Paragraph 37)

9.  We believe that any caretaker administration required to take significant decisions during a period of Government formation should consult each of the parties taking part in negotiations relating to the formation of the next Government; however, we recognise that if a decision needs to be made urgently and agreement with other parties cannot be met, the caretaker administration has a right to take a decision, bearing in mind the public interest. (Paragraph 44)

10.  We recommend that, for the avoidance of doubt, a caretaker administration should continue in office until it can be demonstrated that a prospective new administration will have the confidence of the House of Commons. A single party majority or a formal majority coalition agreement have been taken as tantamount to a formal vote of confidence. Where there is any doubt, the caretaker administration should continue until that doubt has been removed. (Paragraph 50)

The first meeting of a new Parliament

11.  We think it is wrong in principle that the decision on the date of Parliament's return should be in the hands of the Prime Minister. Control over the date of general elections was put on a statutory basis to prevent the Prime Minister from choosing the most favourable time. We recommend that the date of Parliament's first sitting following a General Election should similarly be put on a statutory basis.(Paragraph 53)

12.  We recommend that, in the event that no single party has a majority in the House of Commons to be elected on 7 May 2015, Parliament should return as soon as possible. Transparency is paramount, and a newly elected Parliament should be as informed and involved as possible in any negotiations surrounding the formation of the new government. It is important that the House of Commons should be able to publicly debate important issues surrounding the formation of government at the earliest opportunity.(Paragraph 54)

13.  We recommend that the Prime Minister sets the date for Parliament's return following the General Election for Monday 11 May 2015. In the event that there is a decisive result and a single party has a majority, Parliament's return could be postponed. (Paragraph 55)

14.  The introduction of the 12 day period before Parliament's return in 2010 was for reasons relating to the induction of new members but was done without regard to issues of government formation. We believe that induction could proceed in parallel with sittings of the House. Indeed, debating the formation of the new government would prove a valuable part of any induction for a new Member. (Paragraph 56)

15.  An investiture vote of some form would give a clear signal that the person appointed as Prime Minister by the Queen would indeed have the confidence of the House and would be able to govern. Without that, the new appointment may be made on the balance of probability. Such a vote would also give a clear and decisive indication that a caretaker period has ended and a new government has begun. (Paragraph 61)

16.  We recommend that, in the next Parliament, the necessary steps are taken to introduce investiture votes for incoming governments in the future.(Paragraph 62)

17.  The process for individual swearing of the oath in the Chamber could be expedited, and other reforms considered. The legislation governing this should be revisited with a view to considering some form of collective swearing of the oath or individual swearing outside the chamber. Pending that change, we recommend that the swearing-in process should be carried out using two streams. (Paragraph 65)

18.  We recommend that, in the event of an indecisive election, Parliament should return on Monday 11 May and, using an expedited process, should enter on business as soon as is practicable that day. The necessary measures to enable this should be put in place ahead of the General Election, including by a further proclamation if necessary. (Paragraph 67)

Civil Service support to political parties in post-election discussions

19.  If there is no conclusive result to the election, we do not believe that Prime Ministerial approval should be required for civil service support to post-election discussions. If there is agreement among parties involved in the negotiations that they require support it should be given. The next version of the Cabinet Manual should be updated to reflect this view. (Paragraph 74)

20.  From the outset the civil service should be ready to provide factual information to all parties involved in Government formation negotiations. (Paragraph 75)

21.  To avoid any impression that the civil service might favour one party's policy over another, any advice to the individual parties should be given on a confidential basis. (Paragraph 76)

22.  Should more than one party in negotiations require exactly the same information from the civil service, then exactly the same response should be issued to all of the parties who asked for it. Any information requested by one party should only be sent to other parties involved in the negotiations if all parties agree to this practice at the outset of the negotiation period. (Paragraph 80)

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Prepared 26 March 2015